Two big meetings of our public representatives north and south of the border this week. The topics of concern appear quite different at first glance.
In the south, they’re voting on that abortion bill. It’ll almost certainly pass, since most if not all parties have made it mandatory for the party members to support it. A few from Fine Gael and one from Sinn Féin have peeled off and said they’ll vote against the bill, but that’s not going to make much difference. To their political careers, yes; to the bill’s passage, no.
The bill is so riddled with contradictions it’s hard to know where to start. For one, it’ll have practically no effect on the numbers of women (some eleven every day) travelling to England from Ireland for an abortion. Its core point of controversy is the suicide bit: it will allow a pregnant woman who is thinking of suicide to have an abortion, providing three medics, including two psychiatrists, give the nod. Who will choose the psychiatrists and using what criteria, I wonder? Jury members are rejected if they are known to have particular fixed views on the matter being tried. Will something similar apply to the chosen psychiatrists?
We’re told by supporters of the bill that no pregnant woman would feign suicidal thoughts in order to have an abortion. How do they know? And for that matter, how accurately can psychiatrists predict that someone is at risk of suicide? And finally, even if they were able to predict suicidal tendencies accurately, is abortion the only possible response? If a mother were to display murderous tendencies towards one of her children, would we solve the matter by killing the child?
In the north here, our focus will be on Nelson McCausland and the Red Sky affair. By comparison with the south’s life-and-death issues, this seems relatively unimportant, but it still matters. The allegations are that there was some behind-the-scenes string-pulling to make sure Red Sky, a discredited contracting company to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, would get back in the game. McCausland denies all charges; whether he has done so convincingly depends on where you stand. If you stand within the ranks of the DUP, you will argue that a hard-working minister is being framed with spurious charges intended to damage him and the party. If you are standing outside the DUP, you might think that this is a minister who has failed to be open and impartial in a matter involving public funds. I myself am biased towards my old friend Nelson: the grilling of such a stout kilt-wearer and fluent Ulster-Scots speaker seems to me akin to booing Andy Murray, who beneath all the union flag-waving actually is a Scot as well.
What links the cases north and south is the distinct possibility of hypocrisy. In the south, Enda Kenny is professing concern for the lives of suicidal women when in fact his government has been stampeded into action which doesn't address the problem highlighted by the sad death of Savida Halappanavar. In the north, Nelson McCausland is professing concern for the welfare of Housing Executive tenants. Whether that’s honest concern or the fumbling gestures of a minister caught with his pants down I’ll leave up to you.